Accurate Tracking in Complex Physical Environments: A Case Study

By Bob Hampe

At Actall, we provide tracking solutions for assets, staff and people in their care across a wide array of complex physical environments. One recent project involved the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, where we helped the organization achieve greater staff safety and operational efficiency. 

VCBR is located about an hour southwest of Richmond in Burkeville; they primarily work to rehabilitate those deemed sexually violent predators by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The facility’s staff leverage comprehensive treatment strategies with the goal of safely reintegrating offenders into society in a closely monitored capacity. 

We provided VCBR with a customized real-time locating system (RTLS) for staff safety and duress, which has helped improve the organization’s staff safety rating and further VCBR’s mission for evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation. We’ll explore how the project came about, the issues we were tasked with solving and the outcomes.

The Challenge: Accurate Tracking in a Unique Environment 

While VCBR houses sexually violent predators, it’s not in a traditional corrections environment. The approximately 780 residents at the facility have a higher degree of freedom than those in typical prisons or jails, and the nearly 1,000 professionals who work with them aren’t trained corrections officers—they are mental health professionals, care providers and support staff. That means that, should an issue arise between residents, or between residents and staff, the best shot at de-escalation is help that arrives quickly, and that’s achieved through highly accurate tracking. 

Residents of the facility generally can manage their own medications and cook for themselves, and once the facility’s expansion project is complete, residents will be able to move more freely through corridors, access privileged spaces like arcades and even shop for groceries at the facility’s built-in store. It is a behavioral-health focused environment with significantly higher levels of freedom and movement than typical facilities, which makes tracking solutions even more essential. 

“The environment helps to shape the outcome of treatment. We’re hoping that the environment, being less of an institution, much more behavioral health oriented, and the freedom to come and go will allow (residents) to test their skills before they leave the facility,” says Stephanie Pechura, VCBR’s assistant director of administration, in an interview for this case study.

The tracking system that was previously in place at the facility had gaps in coverage and simply wasn’t performing to VCBR’s expectations and requirements for speed, coverage and accuracy. 

In addition to the unique level of privilege residents have at the facility, the building itself is complex, with several wings, floors, corridors and rooms alongside open spaces like cafeterias and recreational areas. Administrative offices are also on-site. That translates to a need for dialed-in, specific and highly customized RTLS coverage to ensure maximum visibility, quick signal propagation and accurate tracking. 

The Solution: Customized Approach Yields Granular Visibility 

When it became clear to the VCBR administrators that their existing RTLS was not going to be an appropriate long-term solution, we were able to come in and begin work quickly. Actall has worked with the VCBR in various capacities since 2015, so our understanding of the facility and its needs allowed us to present a customized RTLS solution in a short amount of time. 

VCBR required quick signal transmission, zone-by-zone monitoring and different levels of granularity depending on which area of the building was being covered. For example, resident rooms are as granular as it gets—we can tell if a resident is in Room Three, Zone Two, Wing One within three (3) seconds. Cafeterias, on the other hand, don’t require as granular a level of coverage. Triangulation, which had been used by the previous RTLS provider, can result in longer signal delays and inaccurate location sensing, so we had to redesign the existing coverage map to properly leverage our dual-band frequency technology and locators. 

Designing and installing a system is one thing—doing it without interrupting coverage in an active care environment is another. We partnered with a strong local integrator team to manage the install with our guidance and according to VCBR’s needs and timelines, and meticulously tested each and every transmitter, tag and locator. 

Additionally, we created a custom square transmitter tag that offered multiple buttons to designate different conditions and that carried the team members identification, all housed in a single unit for the VCBR staff to use, resulting in more efficiencies, convenience and safety. 

The Outcome: Trustworthy System, Staff and Resident Safety 

Some VCBR residents stay at the facility for years. It’s a long, intensive rehabilitative process with the goal of long-term payoff rather than quick, easy wins. Helping the staff there, who work so hard, to feel valued and safe is of the utmost importance. And providing a calm, safe environment for residents and staff alike helps facilitate productive interactions and positive treatment outcomes. And the more VCBR staff can get visibility and help ensure safety when their residents have increased freedom of movement within the facility, the more they’ll be able to trust them to make the right choices. 

The RTLS tracking solution working as it should is a “priceless” outcome, Pechura says. “I can’t sell that well enough; there’s no measure. I cannot put enough emphasis on how important that is. It puts people at ease—it just improves the comfort level that the staff has. Anything I can do to make the staff more comfortable, I’ll do it.”

As VCBR continues to expand its treatment offerings and resident rehabilitative techniques, we’ll be right by their side. Next up is a camera / RTLS integration that will allow for even more visibility, safety and trust. We are not a set-it-and-forget-it company—when we install a system, we are there for our customers forever. It is a long-term relationship, and one that we hold in the utmost regard. We are proud to help facilitate the important work being done at the VCBR by helping keep their staff and residents safe. 

Learn more about Actall RTLS tracking in complex physical environments.